Steve Jobs: The man and his machines

Since the moment the news broke that Steve Jobs had died, tributes, eulogies and retrospectives have poured over the world. He changed industries, redefined business models, fused technology and art. People compare him to Edison, Disney, da Vinci, saying it will be a very long time before the world sees his like again.

Probably true. But why? After all, there are other brilliant marketers, designers and business executives. Many of them, maybe most of them, have studied Steve Jobs, tried to absorb his methods and his philosophy. Surely they can re-create some of his success.

But nobody ever does, even when they copy Jobs's moves down to the last eyebrow twitch. Why not?

Here's a guy who never finished college, never went to business school, never worked for anyone else a day in his adult life. So how did he become the visionary who changed every business he touched? Remember the "Think Different" ad on his return to Apple in 1997? "Here's to the crazy ones. The rebels. The troublemakers. The ones who see things differently. While some may see them as the crazy ones, we see genius."

In other words, his story boils down to this: Steve Jobs refused to go with the flow. If he saw something that could be made better, smarter or more beautiful, nothing else mattered. Apple has attained its levels of influence and success because it's nimble. It's incredibly focused. It's had stunningly few flops. And that's because Jobs didn't buy into focus groups, groupthink or decision by committee. At its core, Apple existed to execute his visions. He oversaw every button, every corner, every chime. He lost sleep over the fonts in the menus, the cardboard of the packaging, the colour of the power cord. That's just not how things are done.

Often, his focus flew in the face of screamingly obvious common sense. He wanted to open a chain of retail stores — after the failure of Gateway demonstrated that the concept was doomed. He wanted to sell a smartphone that had no keyboard, when physical keys had made the BlackBerry the most popular of smartphones. Over and over again, he took away our comfy blankets — our floppy drives, our dial-up modems, our camcorder jacks, our non-glossy screens, our Flash, our DVD drives, our removable batteries. How could he do that? You're supposed to add features, not take them away, Steve! That's just not done!

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